Vs. Raiders: Bills Prepare for Snooze Bowl 2004

This week's game out in Oakland figures to be a tough one for the emotionally depleted Bills. Last week's no-time-left loss to the Jags fresh on their minds has the classic earmarks of making this week's game vs. the Raiders a "letdown" game. The importance of this game is huge however given last week's loss and more particularly, the circumstances surrounding last week's loss.

The problem inherent in that statement is that there has to be somewhere to "let down" from. While this may practically bring down the defense, from a practical perspective the Bills offense last week tried to pop-start itself with the defense running full tilt pushing it along. The result, it started, ran down the road for about a quarter mile, then coughed and sputtered to a grinding halt. The offense was only able to put up points when handed the ball well within scoring position, both times in the red zone, and then only resulting in one touchdown. The offense seemed to running Gilbride 2.0 at times.

I plan on watching this game as I do every game and will tape it and review it forwards, backwards, in slo-mo, and multiple times in many cases. But please, do not try this at home! It could be very dangerous and should be left to professionals only for your own sanity.

All humor aside, fans may need a family sized box of No-Doze to make it through this one. This game could easily be Snooze Fest 2004. Unless something changes between now and gametime, my vote for game MVP will prematurely go to Brian Moorman and my prediction for his performance is 13 punts averaging 62.4 yards. I may have to have to have my eyes propped open ala Alex in "A Clockwork Orange" during "aversion therapy."

Where to begin…:

The Bills bring to this game a very experienced defense yet one that made a laundry list of immature errors in the last game, an offense on sedatives, a punter proverbially on steroids, and a special teams that has yet to establish an identity otherwise.

Yes, the Bills' defense crumbled on the last drive of the last game. But dangitall, I'll take a 13 point defensive performance in every game we play anytime! In fact, any other team in the league allowing 13 points wins! If the defense had allowed a touchdown drive in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd quarter and held on the last drive, then the results would have been identical.

A 13 point defensive performance every week would amount to 208 points against and would have been good for first in the league last season by 30 points. I for one am tired of the defense overall taking blame for what Bledsoe and the offense fail to do in meeting even the most minimal standards of offensive production! The problems on this team have little to do with the defense as I stated in my preseason pieces. As well, I for one simply do not understand GM Donahoe's approach as it is lacking in many things and is the root cause of the offense's and therefore the team's woes.

The Bills' opponent in this game cannot be more diametrically opposite to the Jaguars as the Raiders are. The Jags have a top rushing game and a passing game not worthy of much respect. Well, at least until last week's last drive. On D the Jags brought a top notch run defense to Buffalo and a dicey pass defense.

The Raiders bring last season's dead last, albeit tremendously improved run defense, and a top rate set of defensive backs to the table in this game. Their offense features a very well seasoned quarterback and a very capable cadre of receivers including running backs, yet a rushing offense that appears to be extremely questionable.

The Steelers last week played very similarly vs. Oakland as Jacksonville played vs. the Bills. In fact, for what it's worth after a single week, the #2 and #4 ranked yardage defenses are Buffalo and Oakland. It is far too early for these rankings to have much meaning as the strength of opponent overshadows much. But it does make for interesting press.

The Raiders had four turnovers one setting up the Steelers at the Raider 20-yard line resulting in a touchdown. The Raiders allowed 237 net yards by the Steelers, 107 rushing, 130 net passing. The Bills had two turnovers, none setting up the Jags for guaranteed points. The Bills allowed 225 net yards by the Jags, 83 rushing, 142 passing.

The Raiders allowed 17 Steeler points apart from turnovers setting them up within scoring range. The Bills allowed 13 points similarly.

The big difference between the Bills and Raiders is in their offenses. The Raiders had 358 yards of offense, put up 21 points on the road, and averaged 5.8 yards-per-play, good for 12th in the league.

The Bills had 242 yards of offense (28th) and averaged 3.8 yards-per-play (29th). Ironically, the Bills are currently 2nd in the league in time-of-possession.

How important is this game for the Bills:

The meaning of this game has tripled since Sunday's loss to the Jags. An 0-2 start here would not be a good thing with three straight division games and a road game in Baltimore coming up. Both teams are in the same spot however and needing a win simply to avoid dampening chances for a winning season. For the Bills and Mike Mularkey there is much more at stake however.

Coach Mike Mularkey needs a solid performance from the offense in this game. Greg Williams and Kevin Gilbride were not simply ushered out of Buffalo because they were inadequate coaches. The stigma left by their void is that even the most dunderheaded coaches could outcoach these two "chief dunderheads." Such beliefs and statements relied upon by GM Donahoe and the fans have their downside as well. I will leave it for fans to dissect the meaning of all of that if we cannot get the offense to start putting up some solid performances with point totals generated by them in the 20s where they should be with this list of talent at the skill positions. Suffice it to say that it would not be a ringing endorsement for this new head and offensive coaching staff in its debut, especially considering that they hail from the offensive side.

I completely disagree with the "going mantra" by the way and for the record. While Gilbride and Williams were problematic, they were only part of the issues. As I view it, it is a talent lack on offense, particularly at the QB and offensive line spots that I believe will make it extremely difficult for any coach to prod this offense out of the below-mediocre and into the above average category. This is where I am at odds with Donahoe and his methodology.

Nevertheless, the coaches will not be judged against my statements, assessments, and analyses, but against theirs and Donahoe's. As stated before, I simply believe that incomers Mularkey and Clements stepped into this worst of situations voluntarily and then opted to hitch their wagon to Donahoe's in terms of expectations instead of cutting themselves the routine slack afforded rookie coaches and certainly against my advisement and suggestions.

Regardless, a loss in this game threatens to create confidence issues in this team. Defensive dissatisfaction with the offense is already rearing its ugly head albeit only the nostrils peering out of the water at present. The entire beast may surface if things remain unaltered however vs. last season's 4-12 Raider squad.

If that happens, then a cascade of issues is sure to ensue needless to say. As I stated prior to the season beginning, a better goal for this team would be not to get swept over the first six games. Even 1-5 will have disastrous consequences. This is the easiest of those remaining five games and after Jacksonville, two of the games which were most winnable.

The new head coach needs to rally this team after an extremely emotional loss and he must do it on the road where Bills' successes recently haven't exactly piled up; 2-6 last season with wins over weaklings Jacksonville and the Giants.

A loss here leaves Bills critics, fans, and media pondering their fate as they sit out week 3 in prep for facing the Patriots where a win will be next to impossible to generate. Giving Belichick two weeks is the equivalent of the four months the Bills had last offseason to prepare for facing the Pats in the season opener. It makes no difference whether this game is played in Foxborough, at the Ralph, or in Mr. Wilson's living room. The odds of the Bills winning that Pats game are a micron above none.

A win here gives the Bills at least a little momentum dependent upon the particulars of the win. If they can generate 20-some offensive points on solid time-consuming drives and otherwise showcase some semblance of an offense, and then perhaps things are not looking so bleak peering down the road this season.

It goes without saying however that if the Bills cannot win this game then all hopes for a .500 season go down the tubes along with the loss. The Bills under Donahoe's tutelage have beaten teams with winning records only four times in three seasons and there were significant and unusual mitigating circumstances in three of those four wins.

What to expect:

A real snoozer!

BUT, this is a very winnable game for the Bills. The Raiders were only 4-12 last season and while improved, are nothing more than a mediocre team if even that. So this game will provide a gauge as to exactly how good this Bills team is. Even last season however, the Raiders were 4-4 at home although 0-8 on the road indicating that Oakland is a tough venue for road teams even when the Raiders are not good.

Three of the fallen in Oakland last season were the Vikings, Ravens, and Bengals, four teams likely better last season than the Bills are this season. The Raiders averaged 24 points in those games. They lost to the Chiefs, the Jets, the Broncos, and the Packers, three of which were playoff teams. Given that the Raiders have improved themselves, this game should not be taken lightly.

This game is shaping up to be a real pitchers duel. Both teams will be fighting to avoid an 0-2 start and both teams will have come off of last second losses. The difference here is that the Raiders are at home. The Bills can't score and the Raiders offensive thrust goes up against the Bills' strength on D, their passing defense.

The Raiders held Steeler RBs and a revitalized Staley-led Steeler rushing attack to 30 carries and 94 yards for a 3.1 yard-per-carry average. This is a significant improvement over last season's last ranked rushing defense allowing nearly 160 yards-per-game on the season. The Raiders' strength is their solid cornerbacks and back seven however. So it will be interesting indeed to see what the additions of Warren Sapp and Ted Washington bring to the table against a so-so Bills offensive line yet to prove itself against a serious pass rush.

The matchup this week would appear to be the Raider passing game against the Bills rushing game. The odds are as high in this game as they could be in any game that the defenses will outscore the offenses or at least play a very significant role in setting their respective offenses up for scores.

If the Bills can play ball-control, establish the run, and eat up clock as they did vs. the Jags, then they can emerge with a W. If the game turns into a shootout with the team needing to rely on Bledsoe, then the odds of victory drop drastically just like they have for years. Rich Gannon can spread out the ball like warm butter over a piece of bread. He's as good as any in this league in that regard and should not be taken lightly. The Bills should be careful in their blitz attempts lest big plays win this game for the Raiders.

This game will also be a good test for this Bills secondary. Wire and Reese will need to be at the top of their games this week as the Raiders utilized eleven different receivers last week. The linebackers will need to be honed as well. Fletcher on pass coverage had better show up as well at 5'10" and against usually much larger targets.

Lastly, the Bills will not be able to use the five and six man pass rushing packages this week or the experienced Gannon will carve up the pass D like the Thanksgiving turkey. Allowing three or four Raider receivers to slide in among four or five Bill DBs is a recipe for disaster for the Bills. Which brings up another issue; can the Bills generate a pass rush with their front four?

To have beaten the Jags, the Bills should have relied more on their passing game. The approach should be the opposite in this game with the Bills going at last season's Raider weakness of the rushing defense. It will clearly be improved, but the Raider secondary may cause problems for Bledsoe and his passing game. There is more speed and quickness in the Raider secondary than there is in the Bills receiving corp. The Raider defensive backs are far more likely to capitalize off of Bledsoe's issues than visa versa just as was the case in the 2002 game.

Key Players:

Raiders:

Second year well-playing Tyler Brayton, and newcomers Bobby Hamilton and Ted Washington from the Patriots and Warren Sapp from the Bucs vs. the Bills sketchy OL.

Rich Gannon and his cadre of receivers vs. the Bills defense and defensive scheming.

Bills:

Bills OL in their ability to generate a power running game vs. the aforementioned DL.

Henry & McGahee in their ability to generate a viable rushing game.

London Fletcher and the Bills' linebackers & secondary against the Raider spread out passing game.

Summary:

Once again the biggest matchup will be the Raider defensive line vs. the Bills offensive line. This week's game will be a much better test for the Bills line and for the offense. The Raider D under experienced coach Norv Turner will be throwing more defensive looks at the Bills and likely more blitzes of varying sorts. The run defense does not figure to be as tough as the Jags rush D, so this will be a prime opportunity for the Bills to showcase this much talked about power rushing game which has yet to make an appearance. If they cannot do that here, given the absence of it during the preseason, it would stand to reason that someone's assessments were off.

The outcome of this game may very well come down to Bills offensive coordinator Tom Clements and his Steeler roots vs. Raider defensive coordinator Rob Ryan who went to the Raiders after four seasons with New England, both in their first roles as respective coordinators.

If the game comes down to Bledsoe needing to make the big plays, just as in 2002, the edge will shift to the Raiders. The Bills should once again attempt to establish this power running game and should be able to do so to a greater extent than they were against Jacksonville. If they cannot, then it is time to begin asking some very serious questions of those who have assessed this current season for the team.

Prediction: Raiders 16, Bills 13.

Fans had better sit upright for this game. Viewing it from the lazy boy may cause you to miss the last three quarters. Keep the coffee flowing.

Comments: mweiler.billsreport@cox.net


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